At NFT.NYC, a crypto-centred art conference held earlier this month in New York, the director Quentin Tarantino announced his plans to transform seven scenes from the classic film Pulp Fiction into non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Since then, Miramax Films (the production studio behind the film) have filed a Californian lawsuit against Tarantino and his companies on the grounds of breach of contract and copyright infringement.

Pulp Fiction (1994), which featured stars such as Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta, and for which Tarantino won an Oscar for best director, remains one of the director’s best-loved films.

The Pulp Fiction NFTs were to feature snippets of audio commentary from the director and excerpts from the original script, which was written out longhand by Tarantino. Whilst the public-facing aspect of each NFT would be a scene cut from the original film, each NFT is intended to contain a secret piece of content only accessible to the buyer. These NFTs were planned to be auctioned on the OpenSea NFT marketplace over the next few months.

An NFT can be made from a digital painting, text, music, a video or anything that can be reproduced as a visual file. Until now, only shorter videos have been available as NFTs, due to the fact that legacy blockchains cannot store data. NFTs are now increasingly being used for the commercialisation and promotion of films and franchises. Recently, NFTs have been issued along with new film releases, such as Deadpool 2 in July 2020. Introducing NFTs as film memorabilia creates fan and collector excitement and generates additional income for directors and production studios.

The owning of a private piece of Pulp Fiction presents an exciting opportunity for NFT collectors and Tarantino enthusiasts alike. Tarantino is notoriously particular about the scenes which end up in the final cut versions of his films, famously requiring multiple takes of the same scene until deemed perfect, and so the offering of these NFTs provides a rare insight into scenes left in the cutting room.

The lawsuit brought by Miramax Films jeopardises the emergence of these NFTs. Miramax argue that they entered into a contract with Tarantino, in which he signed over the rights to the film – save for limited ‘Reserved Rights’, which include the print publication of the film.

Tarantino’s legal representatives argue that the original screenplay falls into this category and therefore there is no breach of contract. They will aim to argue that Tarantino’s original handwritten script (composed prior to the contract with Miramax) does not fall within the scope of materials covered by the contract.

The case also brings to light the issues with copyright law that NFTs present. The appeal of film NFTs is encapsulated in the fact that Miramax admit in their filed complaint that they had intended to create their own Pulp Fiction NFTs.

If the Tarantino NFTs ever come to market, it will be interesting to see how the copyright position of these NFTs is presented to purchasers. Whilst the NFTs will be legally owned by the purchaser, the copyright to the underlying works associated with the NFTs may not be. It may be the case that a certificate is produced along with the NFT as proof of ownership of the underlying work, but this is unlikely to make provision for the transfer of the copyright. Copyright issues may therefore arise if the underlying work behind the NFT is reproduced by the purchaser. Despite these potential difficulties, the opportunity to own a slice of cinematic history may prove too good an opportunity to miss.

Our market-leading Art & Luxury team is able to advise on all aspects of the purchase and transfer of NFTs and operates in tandem with our Commercial and Intellectual Property teams in the context of legal ownership.